Friday, 20 April 2012

Higher productivity pays off for workers

33,000 earn more after companies get help from scheme
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2012

THE display on the screen was initially tricky, but after two weeks Madam Lim Kah Keow mastered the new high-tech cash registers at soya bean chain Mr Bean.

Today, six months later, the 58-year-old cashier finds ringing up purchases on the colour-coded touchscreen a breeze.

'It's much better now, since everything looks clearer,' she said in Mandarin.

But more importantly, her pay has risen by 9.5 per cent, allowing her to take home more than $1,500 a month.

Madam Lim is among 33,000 workers across Singapore who are earning more after their companies tapped the government-funded Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) to raise their productivity.

The programme, headed by the Employment and Employability Institute of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), targets the bottom one-third of workers, who earn $1,700 or less a month.

It helps companies raise productivity by adopting technology, redesigning processes or training staff. It also co-funds up to 50 per cent of such costs.

Since its introduction in August 2010, $30 million has been committed to projects by 543 companies in more than 30 sectors.

One such project was replacing the old cash registers at Mr Bean's 62 outlets with a computerised point-of-sale system.

Sales and inventory information can now be updated automatically, and colour-coded cash register displays with pictures help make staff more efficient in serving customers.

Greater efficiency helped Mr Bean enjoy double-digit growth last year, which the company passed on. Its 285 frontline staff had pay rises of 9.5 per cent on average.

Such productivity gains-sharing is one of the IGP's aims.

More than half of the 33,000 workers helped so far will see or have seen pay rises of at least 10 per cent.

Another one-third of them will see pay rises of between 5 and 10 per cent.

The IGP's impact on productivity was witnessed first-hand by NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say yesterday when he visited four companies, including Mr Bean.

Reiterating NTUC's commitment to raising the wages of low-wage workers, Mr Lim said: 'The best way - the most sustainable way - to push up wages is for wages and productivity to go up in sync, mutually reinforcing.'

NTUC has long focused on boosting productivity, but it used to be an 'uphill task', he said.

In the 2005 Job Re-creation Programme - the IGP's predecessor - 'outreach was limited because many employers had other options. And one option, of course, was more manpower'.

But today's tighter labour market, which the NTUC expects to continue until 2020, may cause mindsets to shift, said Mr Lim.

Another company he visited was Park Hotel Group.

As a receptionist at Park Hotel Clarke Quay, Mr Matthew Emmanuel, 28, used to earn $1,200 a month.

But his new multi-skilled position, as receptionist, waiter and housekeeper, pays him a whole 50 per cent more: $1,800.

The three-in-one position was devised for the group's three Singapore hotels last year, to cope with the labour crunch.

The gains are not only monetary. Mr Emmanuel said: 'It's given me a lot of experience and a better understanding of all the departments in the hotel.'

Productivity and wages go hand in hand: Lim Swee Say
Channel NewsAsia, 18 Apr 2012

NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say took issue with Professor Lim Chong Yah's suggestion to drive up wages of workers, saying that productivity and wages go hand in hand.

Mr Lim said driving up wages without focusing on productivity will lead to many SMEs going out of business and eventually some low wage workers will be out of jobs.

He said the labour movement is concerned that not addressing the issue of productivity will lead to a "no-win situation".

Mr Lim made these comments during a visit to companies that demonstrated how they could give wage increases that were sustainable through improved productivity.

The companies visited include Mr Bean, People Bee Hoon and Pedro, who are all part of the Inclusive Growth Programme which helps companies raise productivity through technology, process redesign and training.

As of March 2012, S$30 million has been committed to 543 projects under this programme.

It will impact 33,000 workers across 30 sectors.

Nearly two-thirds of these workers are expected to get at least a 10 per cent wage increase through the programme. 

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